The Creation Story of three of the Nations of the Haudenosaunee - Part 1
Many people may be familiar with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Creation Story, at least in its short version - Submitted by Kyle Delisle
Many people may be familiar with the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Creation Story, at least in its short version as follows, taken from Module 1 of the online course Indigenous Canada by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies:
A long time ago and before Turtle Island was formed, there was an island that floated in the sky, and this is where the Sky people lived. One day Sky Woman was hungry and went out to look for something to eat. She hoped she would find berries or plants that would suit her craving. She found a good tree and began digging around to find some roots. This tree was a good tree. In fact it was very special, and it was called the Tree of Life.
As Sky Woman was digging, she noticed that the hole under the Tree of Life opened up into a vast open space. She was warned by the animals around her to stop digging. This was not a place to find food, and if she kept digging, she was certain to fall through the hole. But Sky Woman was extremely hungry, and she did not know this at the time, but she was pregnant with twins. Her hunger did not allow her to listen to the animals’ warnings, and she kept digging. Soon the hole was big enough for her to fit through. She was so mesmerized by the swirling darkness and shimmering lights that as she leaned in to take a better look, she fell through the hole.
Down, down, down Sky Woman fell into another world. The water creatures in this other world looked up at the hole in their sky and saw Sky Woman falling down towards them. The creatures worried that her fall might upset the balance of water in their world, so they decided it would be wise to catch her. A heated discussion ensued about who would catch this strange falling woman and how they would catch her. In the end, the geese were chosen to catch her fall. The geese joined wings and caught Sky Woman in a soft feathery net. Now that the catching part had been taken care of, the creatures realized that Sky Woman needed a place to go or she would drown. She was not a water creature, nor could she fly. Everyone decided that she needed a spot to stand, and that the best thing for her would be land. So, one of the smallest water creatures dove down into the vast waters and came back with a bit of earth. The turtle offered to have the earth placed on top of her back, and when it was, it grew bigger and bigger until it became the whole world. Sky Woman then had her twin boys, and they went about the business of creating everything in the world we know today.
Of course, there are many different versions, both long and short, of the Creation Story amongst the original Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee (the Tuscarora Nation only being accepted into the Confederacy in 1722 as the Sixth Nation). We will be looking at four much longer versions of the Creation Story as the above short version obviously omits many details, or that some of the details that are in the above story are completely different from the four versions that we will be examining. This is not to say that one version is more accurate or truer than another. I am by no means in any position to make such a determination. All we are doing is noting the differences between the versions.
We will be examining the Creation Story of three of the Nations of the Haudenosaunee detail by detail. The purpose of performing this comparison is to note the differences between the three versions and to attempt to interpret the Creation Story as constellations. Perhaps people today think that our ancestors would not use the constellations as we know them today, as many believe that they were established by either the Ancient Greeks or the Ancient Sumerians. However, the megalithic site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey was discovered in 1995 and is dated as being built between 10,000 and 11,500 years ago. Upon one of the pillars, specifically Pillar 43, Graham Hancock, Dr. Martin Sweatman, and David Warner Mathison make the argument that the carvings on the pillar are of specific constellations, namely Pavo, Scorpio, Aquila, and Libra. If correct, this shows that the pictures and symbols of the constellations are indeed extremely ancient. In addition, Graham Hancock makes a valid case, at least in my mind, in his books Magicians of the Gods and America Before, that there was an ancient advanced civilization and their knowledge was known globally during the last ice age (i.e. prior to 11,600 years ago) but that this advanced civilization was wiped out by the Younger Dryas cataclysm. David Warner Mathison also shows us in his book The Ancient World-Wide System: Star Myths of the World, Volume One, Second Edition that ancient cultures across the globe used the same constellations that we use today to tie their stories to the stars. So in this series of articles, any interpretations that I make between the Creation Story and the constellations are solely my own and I am not claiming that my interpretation is accurate or that I am certain of my interpretation. The only thing that I am certain about is that I am uncertain about my interpretations.
The three versions that we will be assessing are the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) version as told by Seth Newhouse, the Onontowane’á:ka (Seneca) version as told by John Armstrong, and the Ononta’kehá:ka (Onondaga) version as told by John Buck as recorded in J.N.B Hewitt’s Iroquoian Cosmology, in which he recorded the three versions from individual elders from the three Nations during the time period of 1896-1897, as well as another Ononta’kehá:ka account known as the John Arthur Gibson version as translated and recorded by Ienonhsaka’én:ions Trina Stacey. Finally, the Seneca version included in Iroquoian Cosmology starts off almost immediately with the fall to Earth by Iottsi’tsíson (commonly known as “Sky Woman,” however in none of the four versions that we are examining is she actually called that name) while the other three versions have an extensive story that leads up the fall of Iottsi’tsíson, which is why at first, we will start by only comparing and interpreting the two Ononta’kehá:ka and one Kanien’kehá:ka versions, plus these three versions are very similar. So, in essence I will be combining all four versions for my interpretation. However, for the names of the main characters in the story, I will be using the Ononta’kehá:ka John Arthur Gibson version and I will also be using the author’s name to denote which version of the Creation Story that I am referring to.
In the beginning, the stories talk about the Sky World, which was inhabited by man-beings, both male man-beings and female man-beings. These man-beings are spoken of in such a way that it may be interpreted that the man-beings were akin to demi-gods. The Newhouse version starts off stating that the man-beings did not know of crying (weeping, or sadness) or death. I believe that this is how certain other ancient cultures attribute their ancestors from long ago as also being demi-gods. In addition, I think we can interpret the fact that since these man-beings are unaware of death, it may imply, as with other ancient cultures’ ancestors from pre-diluvian times (i.e. prior to giant flood that is included in almost all cultures’ mythologies), that these man-beings lived extremely long lives.
Both the Newhouse and Buck stories then go on to describing the lodges that the man-beings lived in, which sounds like longhouses that the Haudenosaunee are known to have used, but later in the story it is mentioned that the lodges have thatched roofs. They then go on to state that in the village, one of the lodges housed one male man-being and one female man-being (in the Mohawk language, the male’s name is Rate’seróntie’s (“He throws lightning”). In the Buck version, there is no mention of any relationship between the two man-beings, only that both were “down-fended” and of worth. “Down-fended” is meant as sheltered. In the Newhouse version, it states that the two man-beings were brother and sister and it also states that they were both “down-fended.” Also, all the lodges in the village faced the rising sun and extended toward the setting sun, so they were positioned east to west with the primary entry facing east. In the Gibson version, the two man-beings are said to be brother and sister.
In both the Newhouse and the Buck stories, it talks about a particular routine that the female man-being performs daily. Every morning, once all the other villagers have left to do their tasks, the female man-being would go to the room of Rate’seróntie’s and dress and arrange his hair. The Buck version specifically states that she carried a comb with her to disentangle his hair and straighten it out. I was initially at a lost as to the meaning of this part of the story and why this detail is included in both versions and not mentioned again. In the book The Ancient World-Wide System: Star Myths of the World, Volume One, Second Edition by David Warner Mathisen, the author discusses the tale of Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden by the Pueblo Tewa people. In it he shows that White Corn Maiden is represented by the constellation Sagittarius as it could be interpreted that the bow that is typically depicted with this constellation could also be interpreted as a comb. The Deer Hunter is represented by the constellation Boötes as this constellation has his back to Sagittarius. Looking at the depictions of the constellations, I believe that Rate’seróntie’s is represented by Boötes and female man-being is represented by Sagittarius. Additionally, I also believe the lodge is played by the central body of Ophiuchus. As Sagittarius is under Ophiuchus and Boötes is above Ophiuchus, this is related in the Newhouse version which states that the female man-being lived on the south side of the lodge and the male man-being lived on the north side. As well, the constellation Corona Borealis may also be playing the role of the comb.
(to be continued).
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